First elected in 1997, Rob Anders gained notoriety in 2001, voting against honourary citizenship for Nelson Mandela and calling him a “terrorist” – a sentiment Anders doubled down on earlier this year after Mandela’s death. In between, he has been a punching bag for progressives, and pretty much everyone who follows politics (except for former Calgary Sun columnist Paul Jackson, who developed a serious man-crush on Anders, calling him “too precious to lose”).
While Paul Jackson will be sad to see the demise of his precious, it’s hard for political bloggers to not feel a little sad about all the content we’re losing. What made Anders a reliable source of fodder was how…original, his controversies were. Any politician can gaffe, get caught in a lie, or espouse a position the mainstream finds repugnant. We see that all the time. What made Anders special (precious even) was that he would say things so out of left field, they barely made sense. Like the time he suggested Tom Mulcair was responsible for killing Jack Layton. Or lamented that bilingualism was destroying Canada, much the same way the decay of Latin led to the fall of Rome. Back in 2005, he sent pamphlets about chrystal meth to a BC riding that included a “tough on crime” survey asking people if they supported “homosexual sex marriage”.
Then there were the days when Anders was asleep on the job – literally. First, in the House of Commons, then at a Veterans Affairs committee hearing. True to form, Anders accused the veterans who made their claim of being “NDP hacks”…only to find out later they were card carrying Tories. This was a common line of defence for Anders, who saw vast left wing conspiracies every time someone tried to defeat him (or messed up his dry cleaning order).
So while Anders’ defeat is a relief for the voters of Signal Hill (and Canada), it is a sad day for those of us who have taken great joy in ridiculing the man over the years. Yes, there’s still Rob Ford, but come October, he might also find himself out of work. What then?
On the other hand, Rob Anders is still an MP, and assuming he doesn’t run elsewhere, now finds himself unshackled from worries of re-election or having his nomination papers signed. The man still has a podium (and a Twitter account) for another 18 months, and nothing to lose. I highly doubt Rob Anders is just going to nap through his final term as an MP. We most certainly haven’t heard the last of this politician we all love to hate.
Stunning news. One of the most influential politicians of his generation is gone all too soon.
Marois’ gambit for a majority ending in a blaze of spectacular failure.
Couldn’t happen to a more deserving party.
No one, least of all politicians, likes to admit just how big a role outside forces play in one’s political success – and failure. Strong MPs are defeated when the national campaign goes south. Unexpected issues derail the best laid plans. Competing interests from within will undermine even the most successful leaders.
That’s largely what happened to the last two Alberta Premiers. Ralph Klein saved the PC party from certain defeat in 1993, won 4 majorities, and eliminated the debt. His party showed its gratitude with a 55% leadership review.
All his successor did was increase the size of their majority, winning 72 of 83 seats. Three years later, the party brass quietly shoved Ed Stelmach aside.
I’ve written enough about Klein and Stelmach’s shortcomings to fill the legislature library, but even I will admit they got a raw deal. I wouldn’t call either a sympathetic figure, but in their own peculiar ways, they got the job done, only to be shown the door. Redford however, left her party with little choice.
It’s true that Redford was up against a few daunting obstacles. She won the party leadership with only 2 MLAs supporting her – and one of those MLAs was named Alison Redford. Unlike past PC leaders who could brush off a largely inept Liberal opposition with a few good NEP horror stories, Redford faced a new threat in the form of the Wildrose Alliance. And, as the old adage goes, governments tend to stumble during their 12th term in office.
Faced with this, it’s tempting to cast Redford as a victim of the fates. That likely would have been a fair narrative had she been buried in 2012 under a groundswell of support for Danielle Smith. But Redford won a convincing majority, giving her a clean mandate and plenty of political capital to spend. It turns out Alison Redford spends political capital as quickly as taxpayer dollars.
Soon after the election, Redford found herself in trouble for accepting a $430,000 donation from Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz. Katz was looking for government support for a new arena, so bankrolling Redford’s re-election campaign was likely a better investment for him than giving Shawn Horcoff 5.5 million a year. But it raised serious questions about Redford’s judgment – doubts which only grew when conflict of interest allegations surfaced surrounding a contract she had given to her ex-husband’s law firm. In both instances, Redford had a remarkably difficult time providing a clear explanation, and keeping her story straight.
It was reminiscent of her first scandal – the one which nearly cost her the 2012 election. Shortly after winning the leadership, Redford found herself in dire straights over the “money for nothing” controversy, when it came to light that MLAs were receiving $1,000 a month to sit on a committee which hadn’t met in four years. Opposition members quickly did the sensible thing and returned the money. Redford called the gesture a “stunt” and said there was nothing wrong with the committee – but hung her MLAs out to dry by suggesting there would be electoral consequences if they didn’t pay back the cash. Her caucus whip said voters were too stupid to understand the issue. In the end, Redford ordered her MLAs to return the funds, but only a month later, after the polls went south.
This pattern repeated itself with the controversy that would ultimately be her undoing. It started with extremely poor judgment, when Redford spent $45,000 of taxpayer dollars on a flight back from Nelson Mandela’s funeral (plus $3 for headphones). As per her modus operandi, Redford defended the move, changed her story, stalled, waited for the controversy to explode – and then acted, repaying the money. By that point, other revelations of misspending had surfaced, and there was no way out of the death spiral.
All leaders face scandals. The difference for Redford was that nearly all of these were of her own making. Each time, Redford showed herself to be out of touch with taxpayers, dithered and changed her story, and failed to act until the damage had been done. While there will no doubt be a temptation to paint Redford as a tragic figure, undone by 43 years of PC baggage and a party know who pulls out the knives at the first sign of trouble, she really has no one to blame for her failure but herself.
It’s not a huge surprise, but it’s still big news. After 8 years, the only Finance Minister Stephen Harper has ever known and loved is calling it quits:
Jim Flaherty steps down as finance minister
OTTAWA – Jim Flaherty is leaving the federal cabinet after more than eight years as finance minister to prepare for a return to the private sector, saying the move is unrelated to his recent health problems.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to name his replacement Wednesday.
Flaherty, who delivered his final budget last month, said he made the decision with his family earlier this year.
“As I begin another chapter in my life, I leave feeling fulfilled with what we have accomplished as a government and a country during one of the most challenging economic periods in our country’s history,” he said in a statement.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office said Flaherty would be retaining — at least for now — his seat in the House of Commons, meaning he remains an MP for the time being.
Flaherty’s record is a mixed one, and I’m certainly on the more negative side of the partisan divide on this question. He cut the GST, but that helped send us into deficit. He brought in the stimulus, but only after being forced to at knife point. He claimed to end the era of inter-provincial bickering, but only by ignoring the bickering. He was a reliable minister, but regularly set off controversies.
However, any politician who can hold a post of that importance for as long as Flaherty did is clearly doing something right. He has been one of the few constants during the Harper era, and his departure will leave a gaping hole at the Cabinet table.
As is so often the case, speculation will turn immediately to Flaherty’s successor. Does Harper go with a trusted Mr. Fix It like John Baird, Jason Kenney, or Tony Clement? Does he go with someone with zero leadership aspirations, like Joe Oliver? Or someone with a bright future, like Lisa Raitt?
While Harper has done no real succession planning during his time as Prime Minister, he must certainly recognize the end is nigh. And taking over Finance on the brink of what is expected to be a wildly popular budget is about as good a resume padder as there is. While it likely won’t be his chief consideration in making this decision, if Harper turns to anyone with leadership aspirations tomorrow, he will be widely seen as not just choosing a new Finance Minister, but possibly a heir.
UPDATE: Joe Oliver it is!
Back in 2008, myself and a couple of young Liberals launched “Edspedia.ca“, a mock website to poke fun at some eyebrow raising travel expenses by members of the Ed Stelmach cabinet. The list included Mark Norris’ $50,000 Vegas vacation, and Rod Stevens Hawaiian stop-over to “study their gambling system”.
If I hadn’t received a cheerful letter from the Expedia lawyers back in 2008, now would be a good time to launch “Redspedia.ca”, because Alison Redford is facing a barrage of criticism over her travel expenses.
The controversy started with a $45,000 flight back from Nelson Mandela’s funeral (plus $3 for headphones), and has since spread. The latest revelation is that Redford invited along a friend of her daughter’s on a few government trips. Redford has said that “upon reflection” this wasn’t an appropriate use of taxpayer funded dollars, to which taxpayers have responded with a collective “duh”. For Redford, this is yet another scandal she has no one to blame for but herself.
After what happened with online polls in Alberta last election, I feel guilty even quoting numbers here, but Leger has the PCs free falling to 25% support – 13 points back of the Wildrose Party. What’s most interesting about these numbers is not the Wildrose lead, but that the Liberals and NDP are both up substantially since the last round of polling, and since the last election. Clearly, many Alberta progressives who lent Redford their vote in 2012 are feeling burned.
Whether or not they go back to her in 2016 remains to be seen. But with each passing scandal, asking them to do just that will become a more and more daunting proposition.
When a new narrative sets in, it’s oh so easy to forget the old narrative. But as I compared this weekend’s Liberal Party convention to the last time Liberals gathered, I was reminded at how quickly the story has changed.
First, let’s flash back to January 2012. Newt Gingrich was alive and well in the Republican presidential race, Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana to most of us, and our biggest concern about Rob Ford was that he sometimes texted while driving. A few people worried about the Mayan Doomsday, but the larger concern for Liberals gathered in Ottawa was not the end of the world, but the end of the Liberal Party. Nearly every article about that convention speculated about the party’s demise, and the very real possibility they could be squeezed out of existence by the Conservatives and NDP.
It wasn’t farfetched. It had happened in the UK and in several provinces, and while the “Nycole Turmel bump” had the Liberals showing signs of life, the leadership picture was murky, at best. Bob Rae had agreed not to run for leader, but was definitely thinking about it, leaving a lot of Liberals uneasy. Not that the alternatives were setting the world on fire – David McGuinty or Denis Coderre, anyone? While it feels like we’ve been living in Trudeaumania forever, fewer than 1 in 7 people thought he’d actually run for leader on a straw poll I posted on my website that winter.
I wouldn’t call the mood bleak at the 2012 convention, but there was definitely a lot of trepidation and nervousness.
Flash forward two years and the picture is unrecognizable. The Liberal Party is coming off its best fundraising quarter ever, and candidates are lining up for hotly contested nominations. For the first time in 50 years, there wasn’t a whisper of leadership speculation in convention hospitality suites. The fact that those same suites contained late night poutine bars is certainly a sign these are times of plenty.
This all led to a more energized atmosphere among delegates. I’m sure even Green Party conventions feature speeches describing Elizabeth May as the “next Prime Minister of Canada”, but in candid conversations, even the most optimistic delegates have a sense of realism. Two years ago, there was a lot of talk about “two election strategies” and “catching the NDP”. This time, the focus is squarely on making Justin Trudeau Prime Minister on October 19th, 2015 (or earlier).
That may still be an overreach. But it serves as a reminder of how quickly things have changed in Liberal land, and the type of game changer Trudeau has been.
“In 2006, after the Liberal ‘decade of darkness,’ we took action to rebuild Canada’s Armed Forces.”
October 2010: “Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is scrambling to contain an ever-widening scandal in which officials deliberately tried to ruin the reputation of outspoken military veterans“
March 2012: Veterans consider suing MP accused of dozing off
April 2012: Veterans concerned over cuts to case workers
April 9, 2013: Danger pay reduced for Canadian troops in Afghanistan
April 21, 2013: Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan ordered to return danger pay
February 11, 2014: “The Defence Department was effectively stripped today of more than $3 billion it had planned to spend on major new military purchases in the near future, in what amounts to the second major setback it’s faced in as many weeks.”
February 16, 2014: Former general Andrew Leslie accuses Tories of smear over moving expenses